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The Investigations

🚨🚨🚨: In an interview with The Washington Post last night, President Trump said the White House is done cooperating with congressional investigations in the wake of the Mueller report. 

  • “There is no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress where it’s very partisan — obviously very partisan,” Trump told our colleague Bob Costa.
  • “I don’t want people testifying to a party, because that is what they’re doing if they do this,” Trump said, adding the White House counsel's office has not "made a final, final decision" on whether to assert executive privilege in an attempt to block current and former aides from testifying on Capitol Hill. 
  • Read more here from Costa, Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey and Rosalind S. Helderman. 

Stonewalling: Trump's comments come on the heels of the administration's plans to fight a subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee for former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify by asserting executive privilege, Josh, Bob and Roz report. 

  • “The Trump administration also plans to oppose other requests from House committees for the testimony of current and former aides about actions in the White House described in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, according to two people familiar with internal thinking who, like others interviewed for this story, spoke of the plans on the condition of anonymity,” per the trio. 
  • Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) responds that it's moot to assert privilege now after it was waived for Mueller and other aides to talk candidly to Mueller: “As such, the moment for the White House to assert some privilege to prevent this testimony from being heard has long since passed.” 

At the White House

TAKING IT TO ELEVEN: President Trump's war against the mainstream media has only intensified in the wake of special counsel Bob Mueller's report that largely corroborated the media's accounts of life inside his White House, while revealing some “slips of the tongue” by chief aides.

On Wednesday, the president banned all administration officials from attending the White House Correspondents' Association dinner on Saturday after a torrent of tweets hitting “Morning Psycho (Joe)," “the Fake News Media,” “the Enemy of the People,” “beyond disaster” CNN, and “stupid” Paul Krugman, while directing his followers to head to Fox News. 

  • The vitriol from the president against the media has “ratcheted up a level,” former Bill Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart told Power Up.
  • Lockhart said, however, that it may not matter. “Trump and his administration have not been engaging with the mainstream press and have built a platform only for Trump voters that they speak exclusively to . . . that's why it can be so divorced from reality because for 45 percent of the country, the distortion is the reality.” 

On the front line of Trump's tirade against the media is his embattled press secretary, Sarah Sanders, who admitted under oath she made false statements to the press after Trump fired then FBI director James Comey. Sanders has not issued a public correction. 

The White House credibility problems predate the Mueller report, hence the “trust-but-verify attitude” reporters have taken with Sanders, per our colleague Paul Farhi. But as Farhi, Lockhart and others point out, Mueller's report confirmed the belief that Sanders and the Trump White House have deliberately misled reporters and provided false statements for the president's political gain.

  • “I hope and trust that she understands why this is a big deal and why it matters to us and to her,” Peter Baker, the veteran New York Times White House reporter, told Farhi in an interview. “A press secretary’s most important asset is credibility. If you don’t have that, there’s not much point. But we all make mistakes. The test is what you do about it to make things better.”
  • American Urban Radio Networks's April Ryan has called for Sanders to be fired: “She’s been caught in lie after lie. It’s beyond spin. She speaks for the president, so it’s life and death. In any other job, if someone acknowledged they lied under oath, they’d be gone. They’d be terminated.”

Mike McCurry had a similarly tricky job on his hands when he faced the press as Clinton's press secretary during much of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent investigation by Ken Starr. He told Power Up Sanders has an obligation to the American public to separate spin from prevarication and needs to do a better job of balancing “taking care of the president” with a commitment to the truth.

  • “She could make a choice right now,” said McCurry, who now works at the Wesley Theological Seminary. “Do I redefine what my role is as press secretary, or continue to do the wicked work of being the Trump mouthpiece? And she’s got an opportunity — she could help change the direction of this relationship between the press and the presidency. I am not confident that will happen.”
  • “It's clear that people in the White House understand that if they don't have ultimate loyalty to the president then they’re not going to be on the team,” McCurry added. 

McCurry said he feels some sympathy toward Sanders “because she is a mom and has a family and is actually a very engaging and amicable person.” But McCurry's approach to the Lewinsky scandal — which he said was key to maintaining a good relationship with the press — was by abandoning his access to the president. 

  • “With subpoenas flying and lawyers setting strategy, McCurry deliberately stayed uninformed on the Lewinsky situation, aggravating an already combustible situation in the briefing room where questions went unanswered,” Peter Baker and Howard Kurtz wrote in 1998 for The Post
  • “I certainly did my fair amount of spin from the White House podium but I did not lie,” McCurry told us.

A 2020 pledge?: McCurry also suggested to us the Democratic presidential candidates make a pledge to commit to transparency and daily press briefings.

  • Terms: “You don't disparage the role of the free press in America, protected by the first amendment and you recognize the obligation to engage with them on a daily basis and not just on the driveway or in tweets,” McCurry told us.  

Sanders responded to McCurry and Lockhart in a statement to Power Up:

  • “Wait, are these the same two 'mouthpieces”'who worked for a President who was impeached, disbarred for lying under oath, and who actually did commit obstruction of justice? I’m proud to work for President Trump, who not only is doing an outstanding job, but did America a great service by ending the corrupt Clinton dynasty once and for all.” 

It's not just Sanders who has all but stopped press briefings (she hasn't come to the press room) in a record stretch of 44 days), but briefings at the Pentagon and the State Department have also become less frequent

  • Last week, the Pentagon hit a milestone: It's been over 300 days since the last time an official spokesperson provided reporters with an on-camera briefing. 
  • “This is a critical failure by the Department of Defense, which should be able and willing to explain to taxpayers what they are doing with the nearly $700 billion that they are entrusted with each year,” Admiral James Stavridis, the former NATO commander, wrote for Time Magazine last week
  • Why it matters: “I think it undermines our democracy when a third of the country is fed false information on a daily basis — Democracy can only work if an electorate is informed,” Lockhart told us. 
  • “As others have pointed out, a basic commitment to accountability is foundational to an unwritten social contract between the citizenry and the military. It is our military — our daughters and sons, our tax dollars — so we deserve to know what’s up,” Brent Colburn, a former assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, writes for the Modern War Institute.
  • Colburn added: “That should be reason enough, but in the long run a movement away from an accountability-based approach to public affairs is also bad for the military. It undermines the institution’s political independence.”

There are some journalists who are exempt from Trump's wrath when the medium works to the president's advantage: The Post's David Nakamura writes that Trump has a soft spot for photojournalists and has participated in — now for the third year in a row — a private reception to celebrate the winner of the White House News Photographers Association annual awards. 

  • “WHCA President Olivier Knox, the chief Washington correspondent for SiriusXM, said past presidents, like Trump, have generally displayed a greater affinity for news photographers than writers or television pundits because they are viewed as less threatening,” Nakamura reports. 
 

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Outside the Beltway

HEGAR ANNOUNCES CHALLENGE TO CORNYN: John Cornyn, a mainstay in Mitch McConnell’s leadership team, drew a high-profile challenge in his quest to remain Texas’s senior senator. MJ Hegar, a Democratic military veteran who came up just short last year in a challenge to an eight-term House Republican in a conservative district, announced she would take on Cornyn in a video released yesterday. 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N. Y) is trying to net the three seats he needs to recapture the minority in another difficult map for Democrats in 2020. But he's got his eyes on prominent recruits in deep red states.

Here’s a quick rundown of where Schumer has succeeded so far:

Arizona special (incumbent is GOP Sen. Martha McSally):

Colorado (incumbent is GOP Sen. Cory Gardner):

  • Former ambassador Dan Baer announced his campaign earlier this month, and per Politico has met with both Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
  • Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold is still mulling a run.

Maine (incumbent is GOP Sen. Susan Collins):

  • Despite intense criticism for Collins’s support of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Democrats are still looking for a marquee name.
    • Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, spoke to Schumer, the DSCC and Emily’s List as far back as January, per the Bangor Daily News.

Georgia (incumbent is GOP Sen. David Perdue):

  • Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams told BuzzFeed that Schumer has been “relentless but thoughtful” in trying to get Abrams to run for Senate. 
  • Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson filed for an exploratory committee earlier this month and has also talked to Schumer, per the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

North Carolina (incumbent is GOP Sen. Thom Tillis):

Iowa (incumbent is GOP Sen. Joni Ernst):

  • Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne, who just ousted Rep. David Young (R) in November, has talked to Schumer, per multiple press reports and a Power Up source.
  • State Sen. Liz Mathis, who has ruled out previous federal runs, has also talked to Schumer and his staff, per the New York Times.
  • Former congressional candidate J.D. Scholten, who nearly toppled GOP Rep. Steve King, has also been in touch with the minority leader, per multiple press reports

The People

BIDEN PROBLEMS: As former Veep Joe Biden scrambles to launch his 2020 campaign on Thursday, the New York Times's Shane Goldmacher captures some of the growing pains and existential questions with which the campaign is grappling, most prominently the former vice president's fundraising operation. 

Goldmacher reports on the tension between Biden's lack of a small donor list and reliance on bundlers versus skepticism of the influence of big dollar donors from the party's progressives: 

  • “The dueling imperatives were apparent in Mr. Biden’s activity in the last week. He rallied striking union workers near Boston on Thursday, proclaiming, “Wall Street bankers and C.E.O.s did not build America — you built America!” At the same time, he has been setting up calls with influential political contributors, according to a person familiar with his activity,” Goldmacher reports. 
  • “Not a given”: “This is going to be tough. This is going to be a heavy lift," Rufus Gifford, Obama's 2012 finance director said of Biden’s fundraising efforts. "The Obama people are not a given, and they’re going to have to work for them just like everyone has to work for them."

Other problems: “Even before he formally enters the race, Mr. Biden is grappling with some internal tensions as he builds an organization: A launch video crafted by his new media consultant, Mark Putnam, was not favorably received by other advisers, and the former vice president’s longtime aide Mike Donilon devised an alternative video, according to two Democrats briefed on the dispute,” per Goldmacher.

Global Power

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE: Saudi Arabia announced it had carried out a mass execution on Tuesday, beheading 37 people on charges of "terrorism related offenses," my colleague Karim Fahim reports.  

  • "It was the largest mass execution in Saudi Arabia since early 2016, when 47 people were put to death, also on terror-related charges. The vast majority of those executed on Tuesday were members of Saudi Arabia’s Shiite Muslim minority, according to Shiite activists," per Fahim. 
  • "Those put to death included at least three people who were minors at the time of their alleged crimes and confessed to prosecutors’ charges under torture, according to Reprieve, which said it provided assistance to five of the people executed."

Mujtaba al-Sweikat, one of the Saudi nationals put to death, had planned to attend Western Michigan University. 

  • "Al-Sweikat was admitted to WMU in 2013 and planned to pursue an undergraduate degree in finance. He was arrested at King Fahd International Airport before departing for the United States," reports the Kalamazoo Gazette's Winter Keefer. 

From the Courts

U.S. FILES CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST OPIOID DISTRIBUTOR: For the first time, “federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against a major drug distributor and two of its former executives Tuesday, a new tactic that marks the first time wholesalers of legal painkillers face the prospect of prison for their roles in the nation’s opioid epidemic,” Lenny Bernstein reports.

  • What happened: Prosecutors said the company, Rochester Drug, supplied “tens of millions” of doses of oxycodone and the synthetic opioid fentanyl to customers, despite employees knowing the drugs were not for legitimate pain relief.
  • “The charges against Rochester Drug Cooperative, the country’s sixth-largest drug wholesaler, are sure to send a shudder through the small group of middlemen that control narcotic distribution in the country,” Lenny writes.
  • Programming note: Trump and first lady Melania Trump will attend the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta today to discuss efforts to combat the opioid crisis. 

30,00 feet: Remember our Post colleagues and “60 Minutes” conducted a major investigation into how the Drug Enforcement Administration spent 13 years leveling civil penalties against some opioid distributors who ignored clear signs their drugs were ending up on the black market? After paying the fines, some simply kept ignoring the law. Lenny reports that Tuesday’s news could become a test of a different approach. 

Following Up: . . . Elsewhere, Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court conservatives appear likely to let the Trump administration add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, a potentially major victory for the president. Our colleagues Robert Barnes and Mark Berman have more from oral arguments.  

 

In the Media

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